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People in Highlands to have say on reintroduction of lynx to Scotland

By John Davidson

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European lynx in Norway. Picture: scotlandbigpicture.com
European lynx in Norway. Picture: scotlandbigpicture.com

The Highlands could support around 400 wild lynx, according to a project which wants to hear people's views on reintroducing the species to Scotland.

Organisers say the "extensive and impartial" study will assess people’s views about the possible reintroduction of Eurasian lynx to the Highlands.

They claim the return of the big cat hangs more on people's willingness to live alongside the species, rather than the science behind the programme.

A new partnership of the charities bringing together Scotland: The Big Picture, Trees for Life and the Vincent Wildlife Trust says that ecological research has shown that extensive areas of Scotland could support lynx.

Now the group is launching a year-long Lynx to Scotland consultation, which it says will impartially and accurately assess public and stakeholder attitudes around the idea of lynx reintroduction, including in rural communities.

“With a global biodiversity crisis, we have a responsibility to have open and constructive conversations around restoring key native species to the Scottish landscape – and science shows that apex predators like lynx play a vital ecological role in maintaining healthy living systems,” said Peter Cairns, executive director of Scotland: The Big Picture.

Lynx are now expanding in range and numbers across mainland Europe as hunting laws are enforced and public attitudes to large predators soften, the project partners say. Several successful lynx reintroductions since the 1970s have brought ecological and environmental benefits to countries more densely populated than Scotland, and in areas used for farming, hunting, forestry and tourism.

As a shy and solitary woodland hunter, lynx are rarely glimpsed and attacks on humans are virtually unknown. Research suggests the Highlands has sufficient habitat – and more than enough roe deer, the cat’s preferred prey – to support around 400 wild lynx, according to the organisations involved.

Steve Micklewright, chief executive of Trees for Life, said: “Scotland has more woodland deer than any other European country, and their relentless browsing often prevents the expansion and healthy regeneration of our natural woodlands. By preying on roe deer, lynx would restore ecological processes that have been missing for centuries, and provide a free and efficient deer management service.”

Jenny MacPherson, science and research programme manager with the Vincent Wildlife Trust, which will lead the study, said: “Reintroducing lynx would inevitably bring challenges. Lynx to Scotland will actively include stakeholders representing the full range of perspectives in order to produce meaningful conclusions about the level of support or tolerance for lynx, and therefore the likely success of any future reintroduction.”

The Eurasian lynx is native to Britain but was driven to extinction some 500 to 1000 years ago through hunting and habitat loss.

Lynx to Scotland, which is funded by WildLand Ltd, the Lund Trust and the Jeremy Coller Foundation, runs from January 2021 to February 2022 and is not associated with any other previous or current initiatives to restore lynx to Britain. More details can be found at scotlandbigpicture.com/lynx-to-scotland

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